Perform These Push-Up Variations to Improve Upper-Body Strength

January 24, 2012

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Push-Ups are a perfect upper-body exercise for athletes to perform using their own bodyweight as resistance. Push-Ups simultaneously strengthen the major muscles of the upper body—including the chest, shoulders, triceps, back and abdominals—making them a terrific muscle-builder. Also, what separates Push-Ups from other exercises is the wide array of variations you can perform to develop upper-body strength, as well as to stabilize the core.

When performing Push-Ups, always maintain proper form. Keep your back straight and core tight. Don't let your lower back sag down. During each rep, lower your chest to about an inch above the ground. Try a few of these variations in your workout program.

Power Clap Push-Up

Benefits: Develops explosive upper-body pressing power

  • Assume push-up position
  • Lower to inch above ground
  • Explosively push up to drive body off ground
  • Clap hands
  • Land with elbows slightly bent; immediately repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-10

Slow Tempo Push-Up

Benefits: Increases overall chest strength

  • Assume push-up position
  • Lower to inch above ground and count five seconds
  • Slowly push up for 10 seconds

Sets/Reps: 2-3x5

Decline Push-Up

Benefits: Increases upper chest and shoulder strength

  • Assume push-up position with feet on bench or physioball
  • Perform push-up
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-10

Staggered Walking Push-Up

Benefits: Improves shoulder stability and core strength

  • Assume staggered push-up position with left hand two inches in front of right hand and right foot two inches in front of left foot
  • Perform push-up
  • Walk forward with right hand and left foot to assume staggered push-up position on opposite side
  • Perform push-up
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x10 each side

Triangle Push-Up

Benefits: Increases upper-body strength, with a focus on the triceps

  • Assume push-up position with hands touching under chest to form triangle
  • Perform push-up
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-10

Med Ball Push-Up

Benefits: Increases chest and triceps strength; improves shoulder and core stability

  • Assume push-up position with hands on med ball under chest
  • Perform push-up
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-10

Alternating Med Ball Push-Up

Benefits: Increases chest strength equally on both sides of the body

  • Assume push-up position with one hand on med ball
  • Perform push-up until both arms are straight
  • Roll med ball to other hand; perform push-up
  • Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x5 each side

Single-Leg Push-Ups

Benefits: Increases core strength equally on both sides of the body

  • Assume push-up position with one leg three to four inches off ground
  • Perform push-up
  • Repeat for specified reps; perform with opposite leg off ground

Sets/Reps: 2-3x10 each side

Push-Up Combos
Check out the following Push-Up combos for more information on how to use this valuable exercise to improve your athletic ability.

Push-Ups and Mountain Climbers
This is an excellent endurance and strength-builder for both the upper and lower body. Perform five Push-Ups, then perform Mountain Climbers. Immediately perform four Push-Ups, then four Mountain Climbers. Continue pattern until you reach one rep of each exercise.

Burpees with Plyo Push-Ups
This variation of Burpees adds an additional challenge with the Plyo Push-Up to develop upper-body power. And it will help improve your conditioning—necessary for short bursts of strength or speed. Perform five Burpees with Plyo Push-Ups and rest for 15 seconds. Then perform four Burpees with Plyo Push-Ups and rest for 15 seconds. Continue pattern until you reach one rep.

Push-Up to Plank
When you perform a Push-Up, you engage your core muscles to keep your body in a straight line. Increase the challenge to the core by performing a Plank for 30 to 45 seconds following your Push-Up set.

Inchworm to Push-Up
This combo is a great way to warm up your body. You lengthen the hamstrings and calves, activate core muscles and engage the chest and shoulder muscles. Perform the Inchworm and then perform a Push-Up when your body is fully extended in the Push-Up position.

Photo:  ajlfit.com

Jim Carpentier is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a New Jersey-licensed massage therapist and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as associate health and wellness director at the Greater Morristown YMCA in Cedar Knolls, N.J.

Topics: PUSH-UP | EXERCISES
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
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